Forging My Own Culinary (Author) Path –Guest Shawn Reilly Simmons

Sherry: Welcome back, Shawn! You have been one busy woman with three books out! Shawn is giving away a book — details at the end of the post!

Shawn: The third book in the Red Carpet Catering series, Murder on a Designer Diet, has just been released. I’m new to being a published author, and I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am. Not only to have been published, writing books that I love to write, but also how different events in my life set me on this particular path.

Image one me and DDI’ve admired so many culinary mystery authors for years, and now I get to introduce myself as one to new readers. But I didn’t set out to write culinary mysteries, instead the sub-genre found me. I’ve worked as a cook and as a caterer over my career, but mostly I’ve had office jobs, mainly in sales and marketing. I knew my main character, Penelope Sutherland, would be a chef, but for some reason I still didn’t think of my books as culinary mysteries when I sat down to write them.

Of course, I didn’t think of myself as a culinary expert either, even though I’m a good cook and have a passion for food. I love trying new ingredients, and I rarely follow recipes, preferring to get the general idea of a dish and then putting my own spin on it. I enjoy making dinner for my family, working with simple, healthy, local ingredients. I grow a vegetable garden every year and look forward to all the tomatoes, peppers and herbs bursting into full bloom so I can incorporate them into our meals. So there’s no question I have a passion for all things culinary, but I still hadn’t made the connection to my writing.

Image 2 salsa and ritasMy first year of college, I convinced the manager of one of the nicer restaurants near campus to give me a job, even though I had no previous restaurant experience. I was just 18, too young to serve alcohol, so they gave me a spot in the kitchen. My first position was on the salad station, where all the new cooks started. It was pretty safe, you can’t mess up a salad unless you really work hard at it. Shortly afterwards I moved up to cooking on the line, and eventually I took my turn as kitchen lead, calling out orders to the rest of the cooks and running the service window, making entrees, working the grill and sending food out to the wait staff. I was the only girl in the back of the house the entire time I worked in that kitchen.

In the beginning, I was looked on doubtfully (or flat-out ignored) by the male cooks. They had doubts I would stay or if I did, be able to pull my weight. But eventually I won them over and we had a great time most nights, even when we were so in the weeds we couldn’t stop to talk for a minute. I loved that first culinary experience, even though the kitchen was hot and the hours were long and ran late into the night. The restaurant was also a popular bar, and we served a limited menu well past midnight. But the food was good and on the weekends there was live music, so it wasn’t the worst place to spend a Friday or Saturday night.

Image 3 Shawn in kitchen
Me having my shift drink after working in the kitchen during college.

When I sat down to write my first book, which would eventually become Murder on a Silver Platter, I thought I was writing a book about the movies, told from an insider’s view behind the scenes. It was my unique take on the film making business, and it was something I hadn’t read before. It (very) slowly dawned on me that while I was writing that kind of story, I also had a culinary mystery on my hands. When all of that was revealed to me, I was so happy I had found a way to merge two of my greatest passions: cooking and movies!

Just like I’d become an accidental, learn-on-the-job chef, I became an accidental culinary mystery writer. It wasn’t the plan when I first started out, but I couldn’t be happier it’s where I ended up.

Readers: How about you all? Can you remember a time when you came to a fork in the road that set you on a path you hadn’t anticipated?

Giveaway! One lucky responder will get a signed paperback copy of Murder on a Designer Diet!

Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of the Red Carpet Catering mysteries published by Henery Press. Murder on a Designer Diet, the third in the series, released on June 7, 2016.

40 Thoughts

  1. I love your book cover! I love reading mysteries. Thanks for the chance to win your book!

  2. Welcome back, Shawn! I love that you were the sole woman in the back. I might have to run some questions by you about my chef, Robbie Jordan! One of my forks was meeting a woman on a cross-country bus trip a year after I finished college. She looked a lot like me and was in a PhD program. For the first time I thought, “I could do that, too.” It changed my life.

    1. Edith-what a great story! It’s wonderful to be inspired by others and then see that potential in ourselves. Another reason we women have to keep striving, reaching for all of it to make way for those behind us.

  3. Let’s see: I’m reading a Maddie Day, with an Edith Maxwell sitting next to it and an PDF of a Kassandra Lamb waiting. If I win your book I can probably write its review mid-July (would that be soon enough?)…LOVED reading your personal back story.

    1. I love Julie! Another big fork for me was (again accidentally, when Anne Murphy just happened to start talking to me because she’s a Reilly too) getting asked to join the Malice Board 14 years ago, which led me to meet all of you. I wouldn’t be where I am without all of them (and you guys).

  4. One of my forks in the road was in College when I got to organize an Archives/Museum and realized that was it for me…I loved it. Thanks for the chance to enter the Contest.

  5. Shawn, welcome back. I, too spent college years in restaurants, but in the front. My trips to the back were exotic and fascinating, and some of the stories inform my writing to this day–like the “family meal” the clambake workers eat between the tour boat runs.

    Best of luck with Murder on Designer Diet. Can’t wait to read it!

    1. Barb-
      I always thought it was funny how loud we were back there with all the shouting and yelling of orders. Then I’d go out front and it seemed so serene in comparison! I eventually moved out front too where I got to hone my bar tending skills. All skills I’m grateful for today.

  6. Sounds like a fascinating read! Thanks for the chance to win!!! My fork in the road was when I had just started going thru a divorce. I was told by many professionals to not make any major changes in my life in that first year but a job opportunity in Los Angeles fell into my lap. So I quit my job, packed up and moved, and within a year met the love of my life. We’ve been together 20 years now so it was definitely the best decision I ever made!

  7. I’m already hopelessly addicted to culinary cozies. But through in movies, and I’m so completely hooked. I bought your first book at Malice, and it is near the top of my TBR pile. I’m hoping I can squeeze it in before I got on vacation next month, but we shall see.

    Congrats on book 3!!!

  8. A new author and read is always so exciting. But then. So is life. Our family had a restaurant, hotel, service station, bowling alley ‘mall’. So I worked in all of them learning the ‘business’. From the ground up, all phases thereof, including the history behind the development of all such things. All the way back, like from the beginning of time. so learned about people and places and things and how they were incorporated in literature and how that aided in defining government, belief systems (religion), cultures, etc. That lead me to teaching and counseling, after some traveling. There’s not much I haven’t seen, or done. I know a little bit of everything, and a whole lot of nothing

  9. My fork in the road was when up I met my current husband. We have been married for 33 years. He has really completed by life and my kids life. I couldn’t find a better husband anywhere. And I almost didn’t go out on the first date with him. I shiver when I think what my life would be like if I hadn’t went on that date. My life would for sure not be as pleasant and happy as it is now.

      1. Thank you!! You have another post coming with the same story worded a little different. Didn’t think the first one posted. Oh well whatever happens happens!!

      1. Ok. I’ll repost it. It was for the fork in the road contest!!
        My fork in the road was when I met and married my 2nd husband. I almost didn’t go out on the first date. We have been married for 33 wonderful years. I shudder to think where I would be with my kids if I hadn’t went out that first time. We have a wonderful life. He is awesome to my kids. Don’t know what I’d do without him. He is a wonderful father, husband and grandfather. I thank God everyday for helping me to make the right decision and go on that date. I couldn’t ask for aa better husband and friend!!

  10. Thanks for the opportunity. This book sounds interesting & fun.

  11. I really enjoy culinary mysteries and I look forward to reading your book. I guess the fork in the road that I never saw coming was when I got married and my husband was transferred to another state. I was young and I was very close to my family, but in the long run it turned out to be a good move.

  12. I’m admiring you for sticking it out and the kitchen. Clearly you could “take the heat,” and I’m sure that determination helps in writing as well. Looking forward to reading. <3

  13. It’s so funny how life often seems to take you to where you’re meant to be.
    Congratulations on the book. It looks wonderful!

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